Legendary artist Alicia Keys has recently grabbed media attention due to her decision to attend various glamorous events and award shows wearing not a drop of make up. Some, may consider this a brave move considering the enormous pressure women (and men) have on the world’s stage to look immaculate, and the media coverage of her decision is evidence of its irregularity. Keys has stated that it has been a very personal decision about self acceptance and self love. Through her example, she would like to see a ‘revolution’ amongst young women who can accept a version of themselves free from expectation and pressure. However, despite stating that this decision was personal rather than reflecting a societal trend, Keys has nevertheless been thrown into discussions of ‘trends’ and ‘fashion statements’ and ultimately judgement, contradicting the exact reasons why she states to have ditched the make up in the first place. Her message has taken directions far from her intentions and instead filtered down the social atmosphere as simply a trend focusing on appearance. Through this we can see once more what we already know. Women are bound irrevocably to the scrutiny of society, often judged solely on how they look, even when trying not to be.
I want to focus on the words ‘personal choice’. For me, my ‘personal choice’ surrounding wearing make up reflects more my inability to get up in the morning and lack of effort to actually get ready before 11am, rather than the consequences of my appearance. I arrive daily to work having just put my hair up in a bun and brushed my teeth whilst gleefully counting this as completely acceptable and the best way to squeeze every last second of morning snoozing into my day. Sometimes, If my skin is in a bad state I’ll wear some foundation to even out my skin tone, but more often than not I don’t bother. I like to be able to use make up as an accessory when going out, or to create a new look. Not as a necessity. This isn’t some kind of social behaviourism. It’s not a fad or a way to fall into any ‘nude’/’naked trend’ or ‘hot mess’ cliche. It is simply what happens and is a very personal and individually motivated action.
Similarly, Alicia Keys has stated that her choice to ditch make up has nothing to do with adhering to a fashion statement or societal trend. She has explicitly stated that this decision came from a personal place for her, she didn’t want to ‘cover up anymore’ she didn’t want to be part of that scene which constantly judges and scrutinises women for their looks. Without make up, she feels ‘the strongest most empowered, most free’ and ‘the most beautiful’, again, a decision made personally for herself. This message is so vital in encouraging self love and respect, and considering her social status as a celebrity is able to do a lot of good for those struggling with self esteem issues or lack of confidence. Through her example she has stated how she hopes to inspire others to feel confident in their own skin.
When the ‘trend’ contradicts the message
Despite the original intentions of her decision, Keys has quite counter-productively been thrown into discussions of a ‘no make up trend’. Thus, she has become involved into the narratives of fashion and popular culture. Her original preachings of self love and self acceptance are diluted down the social sphere to a place where we can see Kim Kardashian endorsing the no make up face at Balenciaga’s Paris Fashion Week show. There are limited credible discussions around the idea that this is a powerful way to love yourself, but rather Kardashian is portrayed as merely setting/adhering to a trend. From Alicia to Kim, we can see that initial intentions of not wearing make up to be empowered are lost to the prevailing obsession on appearance. The every day women who then view celebrities such as Kim doing this in magazines and on TV, are consequently told that it is ‘fashionable’ to not wear make up, and therefore do so in order to emulate their idols. At this point women are complying to the trend rather than being inspired to feel free from the pressure to look immaculate every day. This appears problematic and the positive and empowering messages are lost to a mass audience of women who may deal with confidence issues. An audience who would benefit hugely from Alicia’s original sentiments.
Moreover, from how we know trends work, once a trend is swept away and a new one comes in, people will abandon it and move on to the next fad. We can then certainly assume that this will happen with the ‘no make up’ stance. As a consequence, this does nothing but reiterate the point that by becoming a trend in our social culture, the important message of loving yourself promoted by Alicia disappears, whilst the ever boring following of someone richer and more famous than you’s every move prevails.
No escape from idolisation
Now, I’m not ignorant to the fact that when one places themselves into the limelight they naturally become a topic of discussion, admiration and close examination. Whether on a small scale such as posting photos on social media or on a larger scale like becoming a celebrity, our actions as humans will always be up for evaluation by others. Alicia Keys and other celebrities will always be responsible for inspiring and influencing people globally. Their actions will always be analysed and interpreted differently, used for various reasons despite intention. We as a society can encourage and promote body positivity and self love religiously, yet the messages will still fall through the cracks sometimes. The society we live in today can make women feel as if they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, even when just doing whatever feels right for them. It is exhausting and just leads to more and more judgement. But hey, this is not news for us, right? I am fortunate myself, like Alicia, to feel comfortable without having to wear make up. Others, may not be, which is also completely fine. What is right for some women should not be right for others, its our differences which make the world interesting. But, when this decision is motivated by something more than simply a woman’s ‘personal choice’, this is a way in which negativity and fear of society’s judgement is bred into our perception of ourselves. This, is dangerous.
Celebrity or not, we as women cannot escape the tight grip of society’s judgement, we cannot escape the judgement of our peers. But the only way to free oneself from caring about it, is to do what is right for you.
Thank you for reading :)… You can read Alicia’s full essay on her decision here: http://www.lennyletter.com/style/a410/alicia-keys-time-to-uncover/